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Friday, November 6, 2009

ELLEN GOODMAN: WHAT OPTIONS FOR AFGHAN WOMEN?

Listen up. November 11 is Veteran's Day; and, as you probably have guessed, The Daddy has been posting a series of articles related to the military, especially the war in Afghanistan to get you set for that day. Of course, a brotha is biased. He wants President Obama to get our soldiers out of Afghanistan, bring the home, except a small group to train Afghan soldiers to fight for their own country. But other progressives have their own perspectives. One of them is Ellen Goodman.

Ellen Goodman is asking, "If you pull out, what' going to happen to Afghan women?" "Who will protect them?" Ultimately, she is saying that discussions about changes in Afghanistan needs to go far beyond military matters (How many troops?). They need to include a discussion about the prospects of women, or lack thereof, that Afghan would face in a U.S. pullout. Check her out:

What Options for Afghan Women?

by Ellen Goodman

It’s been 11 years since I looked through a photo album smuggled out of Afghanistan by a brave young woman. “This is a doctor,” she said, pointing to one picture. “This is a teacher.” It was impossible to tell one woman from another under the burqas enforced by their Taliban rulers.

Back then, the world turned a cataract eye on Afghan women. Under virtual house arrest, they were barred from work, from school, from walking alone or even laughing out loud. It was arguably the greatest human rights disaster for women in history.

After 9/11, when we went after al-Qaida and the Taliban, which had hosted these terrorists, many saw collateral virtue in the liberation of Afghan women. Indeed, President George W. Bush played this moral card in his 2002 State of the Union speech when he declared to thunderous applause: “Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan’s new government.” Mission accomplished.

Many women shed their burqas, opened schools, entered parliament. Equal rights were written into the constitution. But slowly, as America turned to the disastrous misadventure in Iraq, Afghan women’s freedoms were casually traded in like chits for power.

Now again, we’re focusing on this beleaguered country and its sham leader. The discussion is cast in military terms—more troops, less troops. Yet I keep thinking about the women who are once again pushed to the outskirts of the conversation, as if they were an add-on rather than a central factor.

Have you heard this old proverb? Whether the rock hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the rock, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher. Women are the pitcher in this story.

If we abandon the country, or even the countryside, don’t we abandon those girls who have gone to school even when risking acid thrown in their eyes? If we prop up the deeply corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai, are we just supporting warlord fundamentalists instead of Taliban fundamentalists?

The options are so chilling that even Afghan women’s groups are divided. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, wants us out. WAW, the Women for Afghan Women, “deeply regrets having a position in favor of maintaining, even increasing troops” rather than “abandoning 15 million women and children to madmen.”

American women seem equally torn—ambivalent is far too gentle a word. The Feminist Majority, which championed Afghan women long before it was popular, has stopped short of asking for more troops. Ellie Smeal’s anger at American funding of warlords is matched by the fear that if we back out, it will create “terrible human suffering,” the return of the prison state. Ann Jones, the author of “Kabul in Winter,” confesses to agonizing about deserting Afghan women while fearing that Karzai’s henchmen and the Taliban are “brothers under the skin.” And Susannah Sirkin of Physicians for Human Rights says ruefully, “I don’t think if you ask women and girls that they would easily say their lives are better since 2001. The best you could say is that there is more cause for hope.”

We shouldn’t be surprised we have come to this pass. It happened on our watch. We barely noticed when Karzai signed a law that would have, among other things, allowed Shiite men to withhold food from wives who refused them sex. It didn’t take a rigged election to show a shallow respect for democracy. If by democracy, that is, you include half the population that is female.

Today, one-third of the students are girls. Women now get health care once denied them. Is that enough? How much are we willing to pay in lives and treasure for hope? How much are we willing to lose in moral suasion, in our own eyes and those of the world, if we abandon these women?

I find this a bleak and demoralizing set of choices. The least unbearable may be to protect the population centers while rebuilding Afghan civil society, one city, one school, one health center at a time. But this works only if we include women in a debate that has been as militarized as war itself.

Afghan women are not the “add-on,” the incidentals in this process. Women are civil society. We’ve learned all over the world that the only way to develop a stable society and economy is with the education and inclusion of women. There is no democracy without women.

So, here we go. This is our last chance. And theirs.

Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman1(at)me.com.

7 comments:

MacDaddy said...

SweetTea: Welcome. Thanks for becoming a follower of daddyBstrong. Looking forward to hearing more from you. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything about music or poetry.

Anonymous said...

McDaddy I don't know if this is one of your
seires, but I appreciate the articles you've put together on this important decision Obama has to make. And also for calling attention to the huge risks our men and women in service take on our behalf. We must never take that for granted or forget their sacrifices. ESPECIALLY as they come home from one, two and sometimes three deployments and need medical or psychological or financial support in re-uniting with their families, finding employment etc. Keep up the excellent work!

Anonymous said...

Anon - Just have to agree Mr MacDaddy writes some wonderful stuff and introduces us to lots of new (at least for me) poetry and music. I look forward to it as well. But in the meantime, I think the thoughtful articles he gathers and writes on critical issues and the vibrant interchange among those who comment, is the hallmark of this blog and the reason I come to read it every day.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

We can't have it both ways.

If we "win" this war, we'll be there for a long time and wipe out a good percentage of the men, who are fathers, husbands, brothers, sons and uncles of these women. These women will be left destitute.

I'm not all that convinced that the women are doing all that badly either, say, compared to black American women. Nearly all marry as virgins, as a result don't have STDs, HIV, and I'm not sure but I haven't read about them having drug problems, and they get to stay home and raise their kids.

Meanwhile the media acts like the only meaningful culture is ours, but what they really mean is that of the dwindling middle class and the rich.

The Afghani woman gets oppressed by an culture we consider outdated, but is not much different than this country was less than 100 years ago.

The underclass and working class African American woman gets exploited. She becomes a debt slave who has to work and trust strangers to raise her kids. Seventy percent in many areas never marry and are modern day concubines who endlessly date with the hope of marriage, which never materializes.

I think the media's focus on "the plight of the Afghanie woman" is spin to drum up support for the war and to relieve the collective guilt of those who support the aggressors.

I think I understand the goals of what is to be accomplished, and hope the Afghani women find some additional freedoms, but the prospects for the first is questionable, and the prospects for the second bleak if we stay there too long. If so, a lot of women and girls will be in worst shape than they are now because the males in their family are de facto their social services and welfare.

We need to win this war quick to prevent more suffering than necessary. If our Commander In Chief can pull that off, he's a magician.

Just my thoughts...

Anonymous said...

Hey MacDaddy, I love Ellen Goodman's writing -- thanks -- hey greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, actually, the Red Top Mountain Lodge and Conference Center. It is beeeeautiful! Miss you, Verna